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Taylorsville’s bullish on contracts

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It's about time, says Mayor Janice Auger, that people stop describing Taylorsville as an "experiment" and concede Salt Lake Valley's newest city is an "example."

If you don't believe it, Auger is perfectly willing to show you the contracts to prove her point.Contracts for law enforcement and fire protection services. Contracts for public works, engineering and inspection services. And more contracts for legal services and animal control.

In all, more than half of Taylorsville's $12 million 1998-99 budget will be spent on contracts for services that other Utah cities mostly provide themselves.

That's the "experiment" part: Taylorsville is unique among Utah cities and maybe among all other American communities in the way it contracts for the vast majority of its municipal services.

Only administrative, planning, zoning and business regulation services are provided by the city.

As a result, a city with 60,000 residents only has 13 full-time employees and one part-time worker. The city owns only one vehicle and two cellular telephones.

Even the city offices, located in a strip mall on 4700 South west of I-215, are on a lease contract.

"People call us the strip mall City Hall," the mayor chuckled. "Hopefully, its affectionately."

It is difficult to directly compare cities because of differences in their stages of development and community needs, but one neighboring city - West Jordan, with a population of about 65,000 people and a budget of $21 million - has 254 full-time and 98 part-time employees.

Another neighbor, Murray, has a population of about 33,000 and a budget of $21 million. It has 352 full-time employees and 10 part-time workers.

It should be kept in mind, however that West Jordan is a rapidly developing city with huge planning and growth needs, while Taylorsville is largely built-out. Murray is nearly built-out but offers an unusual range of services including a golf course and a city-owned power company.

The theoretical formula for Taylorsville is simple: Less bureaucracy, less red tape, fewer employees and less equipment equals less expensive and more responsive government at lower cost.

Nice theory, but does it work?

Auger thinks so.

"We've been doing this two full years, and that's long enough to let us know if there are any serious problems," she said. "If there were, I think we'd have put a finger on them by now."

Instead of problems, the mayor says, Taylorsville has been reaping sound fiscal rewards.

Since its incorporation in 1995, Taylorsville has enjoyed maximum general fund surpluses every year and maintained healthy half-million-dollar contingency funds.

Unspent monies have been channeled into a capital projects fund containing $7.5 million that can be used to meet future needs for parks, roads, street lights and other infrastructure.

Best of all, Auger said, there have been few complaints about the services provided by the county and private sector.

Gene Carr, an adjunct professor of urban planning at the University of Utah and a staff member in its Center for Public Policy and Administration, said contracting for some services is common to smaller communities - but that usually changes.

West Valley City, he noted, started out somewhat the same way but began providing more of its own services as the city grew.

"It will be interesting to see how long Taylorsville can continue this" approach, Carr said. "I expect the number of employees will have to grow as the city expands."

Contracting for most of its services was one of the basic premises on which the city was formed.

An incorporation study suggested three scenarios. One called for the new city to provide most of its own services, while a second proposed contracting for all services with the county.

But it was the third scenario that appealed most: The city would provide "policy-type" services such as planning, zoning and business regulation but contract out the rest.

"Those who ran for office knew there was a strong feeling in the community that contracting for most of our services was a good economic decision," Auger said.

Auger said Taylorsville's first mayor, LaVelle Prince, played a pivotal role in establishing the initial contracts that put the new municipal services in place.

"He was a good negotiator," she noted. "Most of our services are provided by the county . . . which has been very cooperative.

"Sometimes they drive a hard bargain," the mayor added, "but the services are what we need."

Capt. Lee Smith, west patrol commander for the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department, said Taylorsville represents "our first stab at a major contract for services." For the fiscal year starting July 1, the city has budgeted $2.1 million for its contract with the sheriff's department.

Unlike the unincorporated west county areas, where Smith decides how manpower is allocated, "the city decides how many people are assigned to Taylorsville."

A force of 25 officers is coordinated out of an office within City Hall where an executive lieutenant is on duty eight hours a day and maintains close coordination with the city's administration.

Smith doesn't rule out the possibility the Taylorsville "experiment" may also be a trial balloon for the future of Salt Lake County.

"Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is a huge and respected organization," he said, "and it lives on contracts."

Taylorsville contracts with a private firm for legal services and also will contract for prosecution and indigent defense services as the city's new Justice Court opens for business next month.

Auger said there will always be a few contracting naysayers, like the one who recently informed her: "You'll do it like the other cities when you grow up."

But she said she thinks other communities will take a hard look at Taylorsville's "example" in coming years.

And, she said, interest is not limited to the Wasatch Front.

"Whenever I go to a conference, somebody invariably asks me about it," the mayor said. "And if I bring it up, I get the immediate attention of everyone within earshot. People want to know whether it will work and how we make it work."

"We've caught the attention," Auger said, "of the whole United States."